Maggie Adams believes she was born to be a writer (see Psalm 139:16)—but it took awhile for her to figure that out. She grew up in North Carolina, then went “up north” to college (to Virginia, then to New York). Unable to decide what interested her most, she majored in Spanish, anthropology, and English, and studied voice. It wasn’t until she married and her husband entered graduate school that Maggie figured out what she wanted to do with her own life. She’s been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry since 1986; she has also spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor.
I found it when my grandsons and I were cleaning out our attic. It was tucked into a corner, covered in dust.
“What’s that, Grammy?” asked Paul, the younger of my daughter’s boys.
His brother, Pete, sidled up to us. “It’s just a dumb old shoebox, dweeb.”
“Oh, there’s nothing dumb about this,” I countered.
In retrospect, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t honored the contents of that shoebox by storing them more neatly. Had I really been so eager to forget the pain, mingled with the warm memories, that box had held?
“What’s in there, then, Grammy?” Paul persisted.
“Duh, it’s a shoebox, so my guess would be . . . a pair of dusty old shoes,” Pete said.
I wasn’t sure I should be opening it in front of my grandsons. They were standing there, though, and both boys—too-cool teenager Pete included—appeared curious.
Fingers trembling, I lifted the lid.
“Wow, those are some funny-looking shoes,” Paul remarked.
“These were all the rage back when I got them.” I fingered the leather on what had been known as peep-toe swing oxfords. The vamp was much higher than what’s stylish today, and the main elements that kept the shoes from looking hideously sensible were the fun fire-engine red color, the peep toe, and their modest heels.
“They’re ugly, is what they are,” Pete said with a grim smile.
“I used to wear them to dance.”
“You . . . danced?” Paul blushed. “Sorry, Grammy, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“What’s that?” Pete pointed at a heavy piece of cardstock with a ribbon threaded through a hole on one edge.
I picked it up and read the names of several young men, long since forgotten—and one whom I had never forgotten. “This, my boy, is a dance card.”
Before I could focus on the dance card for very long, Paul pointed at something else. “Are those flowers?”
The corsage I’d placed in the box with the other mementoes was well-preserved—probably due to the dryness of the attic. “That’s a wrist corsage, honey.”
When I traced the petals on the dried rosebuds, I realized that I had placed the corsage on top of one other item that I’d stored in the shoebox: an old photograph. Unable to help myself, I pulled out the picture.
“Whoa, who’s the hot babe with the dude? Are they at a costume party or something?” Pete exclaimed.
“That ‘hot babe’ is me—over sixty years ago,” I took some pleasure in telling him. I took even more pleasure in it when Pete’s jaw dropped—to realize that his grammy had once been young and had even been a “hot babe” at the time.
“Who’s the man in the picture with you?” Paul asked.
That was the big question I’d feared having to answer, and I still wasn’t sure if I could bring myself to answer it fully.
“Mom?” My daughter, Cathy, called up from the bottom of the attic stairs then. “Are you guys okay up there?”
“Sure, honey.” My words were reassuring, but my tone, I guess, not so much, because the next thing I knew, I heard Cathy’s feet clattering as she made her way up to join us.
“What’re you looking at?” she asked when she saw us grouped around the shoebox.
“Grammy’s got an old shoebox here with some kooky-looking old dancing shoes, and some flowers, and a card with a bunch of names on it, and a picture from back when she looked like a hot babe.” Paul grinned up at me.
“What’s this?” Cathy reached for the box to inspect its contents.
I watched nervously as she fingered the shoes, the dance card, and the corsage. Then she picked up the photograph.
“I recognize you, but who’s this man with you?”
I took a deep breath. Recalling the name that had appeared on my dance card more often than any other, I told her, “That’s your father.”
She laughed disbelievingly. “That’s not Daddy.” She brought the picture closer to her face and stared at it. “Daddy’s tall, but he’s not that tall. That might be an old beau of yours, but it can’t be Daddy.”
“I’m sorry, Cathy, but that’s your birth father.”
“My—my birth father?” She turned to Paul and Pete then. “Boys, I think Grammy and I could use some privacy here.”
“Aw, man, but this is interesting stuff!”
“Paul!” Cathy pleaded.
I shook my head. “No, let them stay—please. This affects them too.”
I was swept back in time as I relayed my story. I’d been a young war bride. At seventeen, I married my high school sweetheart right before he shipped off to Europe. By my high school graduation, I thought I might be pregnant. He died at Normandy on D-Day.
For a time, I raised Cathy alone; but I was young. When I met and fell in love with Harry, he offered to adopt Cathy and raise her as his own. I jumped at the opportunity for a fresh start at happiness.
Harry came to represent all that had been good and sweet in my life ever since. After a while, I’d almost allowed myself to forget that Cathy wasn’t really his flesh and blood because she seemed so much a part of the love that Harry and I continued to share after all these years.
“Oh, Mom.” Tears gleamed in her eyes. She reached out and hugged me.
She, herself, had come to motherhood late in life, having left her first husband after he’d refused to have children. She’d then married Steve. The discovery that she was expecting Paul had been a fiftieth-birthday present for her. But she’d always been open about her failed first marriage—unlike how I’d been about her true father. I prayed that she wouldn’t hold my silence for all these years against me.
Harry joined us up in the attic then, Steve trailing him. “So here’s where the family reunion has moved!” His face was rosy, and a smile rimmed his lips.
“Grammy was just telling us about her first husband.” Paul clapped a hand over his mouth, as if afraid he’d spoken wrong.
Harry patted him on the back. “That’s okay, son. Your grammy’s past is part of what made her the woman I fell in love with—and, as I told her when I asked her if she’d consent to marry me and to let me adopt her little toddler girl, your mom, as my daughter, the blood relationship is important, but it’s not what matters most. ‘Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.’”
Glancing at Cathy, I saw as the passage from the gospel of Matthew quickly sank in. She smiled and reached out to clasp Harry in a big bear hug. “So, then, I have three dads: my Father God, my birth father, who’s with Him in heaven, and my wonderful Daddy, who raised me here on earth.”
Harry held Cathy closely to him, and I wrapped my arms around them. Steve wrapped his arms around them from the other side. Then the boys joined the group hug—which, now that I thought about it, reminded me of a love knot, a love knot that had begun . . . but would never end and would never be broken . . . all because of that shoebox.